Crossing the border and leaving Bolivia behind us we enter in a different world with different dimensions. At La Quiaca, the first village on Argentinean soil, there are signs indicating the distances to diverse Argentinian emblematic cities, the republic’s capital and to Ushuaia, the remotest south point of the country. Argentina is an enormous country to visit and more than one traveller has spent nights awake figuring out which way to follow. Well… 5121km is the highest bid on a sign post pointing straight southwards to ‘Tierra del Fuego’ and 40 is the magic number that will guide you on your quest to get there. This number contains Scarlet red sunsets reflecting on the surface of small rippling streams, midnight skies spattered with stars and Tyrian purple sunrises over snow topped mountain peaks. It delivers breath-taking views on glacial lakes at high altitude, endless plane wetlands and deserted dry areas where cactus becomes your religion and every drop of water is a goddess. 40 fusions ancestral, old, modern and futuristic. 40 alternate monumental silence that accompanies a wild barren emptiness with undying machine-driven noise that escorts a steaming metropolis in a sublime way. Over 5000km of highways, roads and dust tracks are pulled together to connect both outmost ends of Argentina and makes of Ruta Nacional 40 the longest (and if not one of the longest roads) of the world (along with the 3945km U.S. Route 66 and the 2834km long Stuard Highway in Australia). And the best of all… it is highly hitchhike-able!!!
Partly to make it more attractive for tourists, the road’s itinerary, that runs a staggering 5224km, has been changed over the years. Till the date RN40 is offering you 14 National parks, 26 National Reserves and Provincial Parks. The road runs through more than 200 cities and villages in 11 different provinces and transits 5 areas declared world heritage by UNESCO. It combines 236 bridges helping you over 24 major rivers and an infinite of streamlets and bourns to get to more than 23 salt flats and lakes. RN40 has connection with 41 international mountain passes to Chile. Although starting at sea level, the thoroughfare truly breaks records at the lightheaded Abra de Acay, at 4895MASL, as it is the highest point on a national road anywhere in the world!
While route 66 is a phenomenon and for this became almost a mass tourism destination, this long stretch is still virgin. It provides infinite range of culture that goes from Inca at the Bolivian border over Diaguita Calchaqui, Kolla, Huarpe-Mapuche and Guarani till even the native Selk’Nam in the remotest north, all of them adapted to the endless variety of Argentina’s climate and landscapes. RN40 arranges for the explorer an immeasurable fauna and flora of endemic species and they are waiting to be spotted. The road guides you through the high Andean mountains ranges and low outstretched Patagonian plains both with views that will petrify more than one. There are bottles of wine anxious to be uncorked and grills with red glowing charcoal waiting at your choice for meat. And the best of all… there are the Argentineans to be met on the way, conversations ready to be had and experiences to be shared.
(One of the bizzarest places only findable by hitchhiking: if a car gives you a lift just till the half off the distance and you end up at the godforsaken backcountry … An empty, taken good care off, pool in the middle of nowhere might be awaiting you.)
- Plenty of towns and cities to spend the night, as well as plenty campgrounds and open spaces to camp. Organize well the trip as sometimes between two minor settlements might be too much distance to walk (in case you run out of hitchhike-luck). Plenty of food and water and an appetite for adventure are essential. Large areas of the RN40 have no roadside assistance and no mobile network.
- Take a public bus to get out of the centre and suburbs of big cities and hitchhike from there on.
- There are a number of international important sites along this route. Here are some of them: Cueva de los Manos, which contains cave art dating back some 13.000years. Perito Moreno Glacier at the Los Glaciares National Park. Take a step back in time and explore the wonderful millennial forest in the Parque Nacional Los Alceres. The Calchaquí Valleys and the multi-coloured Quebrada de Humahuaca in the north. Wine tasting in wine houses with international fame.
- The ideal time commitment for most travellers is one to two months. And the best time of the year is from December to March.